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TikTok’s features have been quickly copied by American social media companies keen not to miss out Image: Tina Tiller

MediaNovember 29, 2022

10 key takeaways from an astounding new survey of Gen Z New Zealanders

tiktok icon with cool shades watching a video while youtube and instagram icons look on in ENVY
TikTok’s features have been quickly copied by American social media companies keen not to miss out Image: Tina Tiller

A major new survey shows young New Zealanders turning sharply away from NZ made content and channels, writes Duncan Greive.

A brand new survey covering the viewing and listening habits of Gen Z-adjacent New Zealanders has revealed behaviour which is predictable but still deeply challenging for those in the business of making film, television, music and news. Commissioned by New Zealand’s public media funder NZ On Air, the survey tapped 700 New Zealanders aged 15-24, and asked them in-depth questions about what content they watched, how frequently they encountered New Zealand-made shows and what their attitudes towards that content was.

It’s called “Where are the youth audiences 2022”, and is an offspring of “Where are the audiences?” a biannual survey which looks at the total audience for New Zealand content. Since its debut in 2014, it has documented the stunning pace of the transition to digital, and in so doing laid bare just how fast some audiences have deserted mediums which were once immensely powerful. While its methodology is disputed by some at a granular level, its top level conclusions are hard to ignore.

Collectively it shows just how little control New Zealand has over the attention of its rangatahi, and underscores just how vast the challenge is for both NZ On Air, and ANZPM, the new media conglomerate that will absorb RNZ and TVNZ on March 1 of next year. Above all that is the confronting reality that the behaviour of young people is the best predictor we have for the behaviour of older people. So we have no choice but to grapple with this behaviour now, or risk a further erosion of some of the key ties which bind us together as a people.

I’ve read the report under embargo – here are 10 points which leap out.

Follow Duncan Greive’s NZ media podcast The Fold on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

1. TVNZ is the eighth most popular channel among young people

Defining a channel is maddeningly difficult in this era, but if you view it as “a place people can consume news or entertainment content”, then this is both fair and damning. There’s a big five – YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Spotify and Netflix – all of which have a daily reach of between 57% and 65% of 15-24 year olds. Next come TikTok and Snapchat, at 46% and 43% respectively. This leaves TVNZ way down in eighth place, with just 30% daily usage of its combined linear and digital channels. For all of its push into digital with TVNZ+, less than one in five (18%) 15-24 year olds are daily users – around a third the audience for Netflix (51%). The verdict for RNZ is even more chilling – just 2% of those surveyed claimed to listen to its core radio product.

2. YouTube and Netflix have to be central to all future planning

There are a number of factors which make a survey like this somewhat deceptive. For example, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram pitch themselves as being as much about sharing, messaging and posting as they are about consumption. If you’re an advertiser, that distinction matters a bit less, though it’s not immaterial. But it does make the platforms more challenging if you’re in the business of making or distributing content.

That is not the case for YouTube or Netflix, both of which are built for horizontal video. YouTube’s average video length is around 12 minutes, which qualifies as longform in the TikTok era. Of those surveyed, 65% use YouTube every day, a hair ahead of Netflix on 57%. There are significant challenges to both, with YouTube content controlled by an opaque algorithm and Netflix both algorithmically controlled and behind a paywall. But these pure video sites have immense reach among young audiences, and it’s no longer possible for New Zealand media organisations to operate without them being central to future audience strategy.

The survey found that 36% of young New Zealanders watch video on TikTok every day. (Photo: Getty Images)

3. TikTok is rising fast – but remains deeply challenging 

TikTok has been on a meteoric rise over the past three years, so it’s almost a surprise to see a subdued performance for it as a social media service, with just 20% of those surveyed using it for that purpose each day. But the very next slide reveals TikTok’s true purpose – it bills itself as an entertainment destination, and is second only to the dominant YouTube (57%) as an online video destination, with 36% daily use, narrowly ahead of Instagram on 34%.

The platform remains challenging for those who seek to reach young people – it is a true “everything store”, designed for micro-niches rather than the kind of broad content our funders and media companies typically make. It cares little for geography, which is what has historically driven consumption of NZ content. And its always-changing, hyper shortform content profoundly resists the careful, planned, controlled approach which has been the hallmark of media up until now. Finally, its Chinese government-controlled parent company presents a separate set of geopolitical issues.

4. Radio makes TV look popular

That’s not quite fair, as radio in fact narrowly squeaks past linear TV, with 30% daily reach compared to 28% for TV. But it’s telling that previously youth focused stations like Mai and Flava are now in the throwback business – eight of the top 10 songs in the recently-completed Mai Hot 1000 were released in the 90s. No station attracts more than one in 10 young people on a daily basis, with The Edge the most popular by far on 9%.

Just 18% of young people use the free TVNZ+ service on a daily basis, compared to 57% for Netflix (Screenshot)

5. The most popular NZ channel reaches less than 20% of young people on a daily basis

Another way of slicing this is to look at consumption by way of individual channels. After all, if you’re wanting to reach an audience, whether as an advertiser or as content creator, you need to do so in a specific venue. That puts TVNZ+ on top, at 18% daily usage. The next two are TVNZ1 at 15% and TVNZ2 at 10%, with a surprisingly robust 10% for the NZ Herald as a video platform – ahead of Three and The Edge on 9%. It reveals a paradox which underpins all this research – that aside from the big overseas platforms, no one has a scale daily audience.

The logical conclusion might be to transfer spend to those platforms – but taihoa, there are two challenges there. Firstly, the sheer volume of content and difficulty of measuring audiences means it’s hard to know if it’s being seen (and whether the audience is in New Zealand). And secondly, monetising content on social platforms is notoriously difficult – so the state will almost certainly have to commit to a far greater role in funding content.

6. More than half of young people can’t remember watching any NZ show

This survey is conducted by NZ On Air, which as of today is the biggest funder of NZ content in the country (that is likely to change next year with ANZPM, and it will be interesting to see if these numbers change as a result). NZOA largely decides its funding by taking pitches from production companies, most of which come with either TVNZ or Three attached as a platform.

When you add that to the audience numbers above, it’s not really surprising that a clear majority of 15-24 year olds can’t say with any confidence if they’ve seen any NZ show in the past month. Of those surveyed, 55% answered “don’t know”, “not sure if it was NZ content” or “a month or more ago” to the question “When did you last watch an NZ made show?” People’s memories are imperfect, but the number is still a worry, given how much money we spend on that content. When asked why they don’t like NZ shows, key reasons cited included finding it cringey, which is not good, or just not caring where something was made, which is almost existentially scary for makers.

Artists like Drax Project are keeping NZ music in front of young audiences. (Photo: Jory Lee Cordy / Supplied)

7. NZ music is bucking the trend

One obvious bright spot: despite a comparatively paltry budget ($6m versus the nine figure sum spent on radio and TV), music performs much better by the same standard. Just 28% were in the unsure / a long time ago bracket when asked about the last time they listened to NZ music, exactly half the number for TV. It’s a credit to the medium, and to its more accessible distribution – pretty much every song exists on both Spotify and YouTube, by far the two biggest channels for music.

It’s worth thinking about other ways music differs from television too. Namely, that it has always been a user-generated medium, with barriers to entry lower all the time, as hit songs can and have been recorded on an iPhone under a duvet (not that this is easy, but it can be done). It also benefits from the way TikTok has globalised distribution – even if that presents a separate set of challenges to generating any kind of national identity or conversation. Still, the question of what NZ content more broadly can learn from the success of NZ music remains an urgent one.

8. Social media is three times more popular than radio or TV

There are four behaviours which somewhere between two in three and nine in 10 Gen Z New Zealanders do on a daily basis. They are: use social media (89%); stream music or video from overseas (both 79%); and use a subscription video service (67%). Everything else is way down the list, with only online gaming (which we hardly fund at all) on 46% used by anywhere near half of those surveyed on a daily basis. The next three mediums are radio (30%), TV (28%) and NZ on-demand video (23%) – but of those, two have fallen from far higher numbers inside of a generation, and can only be expected to fall further over time.

9. NZ media continues to fail Pan-Asian audiences 

There is one common theme when surveys like this come out, and it’s that Pan-Asian audiences are persistently lagging. This is particularly challenging as Pan-Asian audiences are younger than the population as a whole, and also our fastest growing population, predicted to reach 26% of the population as a whole in 20 years, having surpassed Māori to become our second-largest population group in 2020.

This will not be easy to fix. Pan-Asian is a huge bucket, containing nearly half the world’s population and dozens of languages and cultures. Some are heavy users of platforms like WeChat, which are hard for NZ creators to serve, for reasons ranging from their UI to Chinese government censorship. But that does not mean this failure can be allowed to persist, nor that there aren’t obvious ways to try harder. Both YouTube and TikTok have higher usages among Pan-Asian audiences than the general youth population, meaning that what makes sense for audiences overall also could work well for those audiences too.

10. A note on what the survey doesn’t reveal

There are many people deeper in the weeds of data than me, and anyone at a major media platform always rolls their eyes at Where Are The Audiences? There are two major reasons why. Firstly, it contradicts many other more medium specific surveys. To pick one – Nielsen says that over 90% of NZ households have a working TV in them, but this survey says that just 65% of those aged 15-24 do. The truth is likely somewhere in between, but as hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising revenue is moved by that number, it’s really something we should know with greater certainty, rather than guess at.

The second is that its focus on daily usage, on what you did yesterday, might plausibly obscure some less frequent but still habitual behaviours. In many ways the nature of social, messaging and shortform content lends itself to dipping in almost constantly, while watching longer form content like TV might have moved from a daily to a 2-3 times a week behaviour, particularly in a hyper-social demographic like this. To pick one example, radio surveys claim two thirds of 10-24 year olds – but that’s on a weekly basis, and allows for occasional but still regular exposure versus the constant behaviour surveyed. (To allow me a very self-interested methodological gripe: it only surveys news sites for video usage, rather than usage overall, and does not grapple at all with media organisations like The Spinoff, which emphasise social and off-platform distribution, exactly as the data suggests we should, for video and audio).

Still, while there will always be reason to quibble about methodology, there remains a granite-like fundamental truth in this survey and its siblings. That is, that audiences are changing faster and more profoundly than we ever thought possible. And those who wish to meet them where they are need to do the same.

Follow Duncan Greive’s NZ media podcast The Fold on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast provider.

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